Pedaling Powered by Kids With Arthritis

Jenn McGinnis wasn’t looking for a charity bike ride for arthritis, but she got hooked at the very beginning.

By Anthony Williams | Jan. 31, 2024

Originally from Kansas and now living in the Los Angeles area, Jennifer McGinnis really loves riding her bicycle. 

In 2022, she was looking online for a “century ride” — a 100-mile bike ride — to participate in. “Something to get me in shape, get me motivated. Something that would just be good for my psyche and everything,” she remembers. “A flat ride was very important to me because I wasn’t made to climb hills.”

Eventually, Jenn’s Google search led her to the Arthritis Foundation’s California Coast Classic (CCC), which has raised millions of dollars for the arthritis cause since it began in 2001. “I was intrigued by the pictures of the California coast and got super excited,” Jenn says. “Then I saw 525 miles, which first concerned me. But honestly it was just wild enough that it piqued my curiosity. I wasn’t looking for a ride for arthritis. I wasn’t even looking for a charity ride.”

Jenn admits that she signed up for the CCC for “personal or kind of selfish reasons.” She adds: “Then it morphed into this beautiful and wonderful thing that is just amazing. I can literally say that this ride has changed my life. I found it by chance, but I’m staying by choice.”

Jenn is a nurse with a background in social services and nonprofit work. After being a pediatric intensive care nurse for several years, she stepped away from the bedside, went back to school and became a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Today, she's a nurse practitioner for a nonprofit in LA.

For the 2022 California Coast Classic, Jenn’s bike riding compass zeroed in on scores of kids with juvenile arthritis (JA), with their parents’ involvement. She rode for them in her fundraising efforts, representing the children along the way of her tour.

“We kind of think of arthritis coming with age,” she observes. “A few weeks before the ride in 2022, I didn’t think I could do this ride for myself. I’ve had a huge professional background of working with kids. I knew juvenile arthritis existed, but I had no idea the extent of it. I decided, ‘I’m going to ride for some kids with JA.’”

Riding for the Kids

Jenn started searching for JA Facebook groups. “I asked, ‘Do you have a child with JA?’ I posted it one evening, and my computer just kept dinging and dinging for hours. I ended up making a table, trying to keep track of everybody. The response was overwhelming. The parents and kids were excited, like ‘Somebody is caring, somebody’s recognizing us and trying to spread awareness,’ which was my whole point.”

Jenn continues: “In 2022, I had 107 JA Champions, whose names I put on my bike riding jerseys. I was pedaling the bike, but they were powering me.” During her coastal journey, she stopped at iconic landmarks along the route to snap selfies featuring photos she shared of each individual kid.

One of those kids Jenn honored is Keeks, a kindergartener in Wisconsin. The girl’s mother, Sheena, says of Jenn: “What she did by riding for my daughter and other kids is give me hope. There’s someone else cheering us on and raising awareness about JA.”

The 2022 CCC was eight days of Jenn’s life, but day one was long and hard. “I had six flat tires that first day,” she recalls.

“I couldn’t have done the ride if it wasn’t for all those kiddos. I’d spend hours going over their names in my head. It’s these kids who are absolutely incredible, fighting something I can’t imagine experiencing. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be one of those parents. Thinking of them is what got me down the coast 525 miles.

“I was representing and raising awareness about kids from all across the United States and a couple from different countries. I had 107 fluorescent names on my jerseys to spread awareness down the coast.”

Coming Back for More

“I used to be in the pediatric health care world, but I had no idea the magnitude of JA,” Jenn admits. “My grandma, who’s nearly 90, has arthritis. But we don’t think of kids when we think of arthritis. It’s really important for people to know that it’s not just something older people get. And it includes autoimmune disorders like lupus, Sjögren’s and other conditions.”

Jenn says she didn’t know about the Arthritis Foundation before finding the California Coast Classic. “They do amazing things,” she says. “We ride for a cure because, ultimately, that would be amazing, because there isn’t a cure. And they fund innovative research. But the Arthritis Foundation also has camps for kids with JA, where kids can go to camp, no longer feel alone and just be a normal kid. There are also a lot of educational programs.”

Jenn completed the 2023 California Coast Classic last fall, riding for 153 kids this time, snapping over 140 selfies along the way, again posing with photos of the children she represented. And she plans to keep returning every year. "Seriously, this has become something that means so much to me. I can show you well over a hundred reasons why. Plus, I do it for all of their parents and other loved ones."

It’s not too soon to consider joining our next California Coast Classic, as a volunteer or rider. Start getting ready!
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